The Glossary Universal Studios Gave Out to the First Audiences of David Lynch’s Dune (1984)


Next to Star Wars, David Lynch’s Dune was one of my very first intro­duc­tions to great sci­ence fic­tion film­mak­ing, and my first intro­duc­tion to David Lynch. My sci-fi-lov­ing father and I watched it over and over, along with Nico­las Roeg’s The Man Who Fell to Earth, Kubrick’s 2001, and pop­cornier fare like the Plan­et of the Apes films. Now, when I call Dune “great,” I’m ful­ly aware that many well-respect­ed crit­ics, espe­cial­ly the late Roger Ebert, hat­ed, and con­tin­ue to hate, Dune. Some fans and critics—and for the life of me I can­not under­stand why—have even stat­ed a pref­er­ence for the Syfy Channel’s mediocre 2000 minis­eries adap­ta­tion, most­ly because of issues of “faith­ful­ness” to the source, despite it look­ing, as one blog­ger apt­ly put it, “like a cross between a telen­ov­ela and a youth group stag­ing of God­spell.” This won’t stand for me. Some poor edit­ing deci­sions notwith­stand­ing, Lynch’s Dune is bril­liant. Hell, even Frank Her­bert him­self, god­like cre­ator of the Dune uni­verse, loved it.


In 1984, how­ev­er, the movie seemed des­tined for per­ma­nent obscu­ri­ty, not cult fan­dom. Lynch dis­owned it—releasing it under the name “Alan Smithee,” long­stand­ing pseu­do­nym of embar­rassed direc­tors. For its tank­ing in the the­aters, Dune appears on this list of “Great­est Box Office Bombs” for the years 1983–84, along with turds like Krull and the sequel to Sat­ur­day Night Fever. “If a film-view­er had no knowl­edge of the mas­sive­ly dense book,” the review­er notes, “the bloat­ed film made lit­tle sense.”

While I found Dune’s nigh-impen­e­tra­bly alien nature allur­ing, film-going audi­ences had lit­tle patience for it. A large part of the prob­lem, of course, is Her­bert’s invent­ed lan­guage. “With­in the first 10 min­utes,” writes Daniel Sny­der at The Atlantic, “the film bom­bard­ed audi­ences with words like Kwisatz Hader­ach, land­sraad, gom jab­ber, and sar­daukar with lit­tle or no con­text.” Con­trast this with Star Wars’ “blaster,” “droid,” and “force”—“words for made up things but they’re words that we know.” Although Stan­ley Kubrick­’s  A Clock­work Orange—with its heavy, untrans­lat­ed nad­sat slang—was a hit over a decade ear­li­er, it seems Uni­ver­sal Stu­dios felt Dune’s audi­ences need­ed prepara­to­ry mate­ri­als, and so, reports io9, they cir­cu­lat­ed a glos­sary to film­go­ers (first page at the top, obverse above—click to enlarge and then click again).

There’s lit­tle infor­ma­tion on when, exact­ly, the stu­dio decid­ed this was nec­es­sary, or how they expect­ed audi­ences to read it in the dark. But it’s per­fect for home view­ing. In the dark about the pre­cise nature of a “fremk­it”? Flip on the lights, pause your Ama­zon stream or blu-ray, scroll down, and there you have it: “desert sur­vival kit of Fre­men man­u­fac­ture.” (See the pre­vi­ous entry for a “Fre­men” expla­na­tion.) For all its use­less­ness in an actu­al the­ater, you have to hand it to whomev­er was tasked with com­pil­ing this list of terms; it’s a fair­ly com­pre­hen­sive crash course on Herbert’s expan­sive space epic. It’s doubt­ful David Lynch had any­thing to do with these mate­ri­als, but it’s also true that he found the world of Dune almost as baf­fling as those first audi­ences. Just above, see him in a pained inter­view on the “night­mare” that was the mak­ing of the film. No mat­ter what he feels about it, I’m one fan who’s grate­ful he endured the tor­ment.

via io9

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Japan­ese Movie Posters of 10 David Lynch Films

David Lynch’s Per­fume Ads Based on the Works of Hem­ing­way, F. Scott Fitzger­ald & D.H. Lawrence

David Lynch Explains Where His Ideas Come From

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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Comments (6)
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  • You state…“Lynch dis­owned it” this is incor­rect. The the­atri­cal­ly released orig­i­nal DUNE is the only one he stands behind. Your ref­er­ence to the “Alan Smithee” reac­tion was for the “expand­ed” tele­vised ver­sion with the sup­posed extra footage made up of art­work from the sto­ry­boards, long intro­duc­tion and need­less end­less over­dubbed nar­ra­tion (that essen­tial­ly replaced the glos­sary). This unnes­sary & hideous stu­dio made ver­sion is the one car­ry­ing the Smithee cred­it because Lynch dispised it. Hav­ing said that I still will watch the TV edit when­ev­er it’s on because, hell, I love to vis­it the place.

  • St. Natalie of the Knife says:

    It’s good to see some­body stick up for Lynch’s Dune. I have my “quib­bles” about the film, just as Frank Her­bert word­ed it. But ulti­mate­ly the sets, cos­tume design, and the actors are A++. Oliv­er Harp­er (Review/Retrospect on YouTube) said it best; “Dune is a mess, but it is a beau­ti­ful mess” and I’d like to sim­ply add that it’s also Lynch ^_^
    Cool review!

  • St. Natalie of the Knife says:

    The TV edit would have actu­al­ly been tol­er­a­ble if a woman who sound­ed like Vir­ginia Mad­sen as Princess Iru­lan where nar­rat­ing, but some burly-ass sound­ing man? Awful. Also the Guild Nav­i­ga­tor over-dub; cringe wor­thy. But see­ing addi­tion­al Dune footage is always inter­est­ing BECAUSE of how beau­ti­ful of a world Lynch, cast and crew cre­at­ed.

  • Jonathan says:

    Saw this in the the­atre with my dad back in the day. I remem­ber giant worms, Sting, and Ken­neth McMil­lan as a bloat­ed man with hor­ri­ble skin. Did­n’t make much sense then either…

  • Keith Berry says:

    Lynch has since dis­owned the the­atri­cal ver­sion as well.

  • Keith Berry says:

    The author of this piece should do more research before attempt­ing to write. Frank Her­bert did­n’t “love” Lynch’s ver­sion of DUNE.….but he had signed a con­tract before­hand pledg­ing that he would pro­mote the film no mat­ter how it turned out.

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